Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The party of fiscal responsibility

Here's a chart on the amount of federal debt relative to GDP, demarcated by different Presidential administrations.

When will the Democrats start systematially marketing themselves as the party of fiscal and moral rectitude?

Trading pictures of dead Iraqis for free porn

A couple days ago I wrote about how the war in Iraq destroying America's moral fibre, a decline that anyone with the slightest sense can recognize is far worse than adulterous Presidential semi-sex.

Well, here's proof: the East Bay Express reports on a Web site that lets soldiers trade pictures of dead Iraqis for free access to amateur porn. This definitely falls into the "you can't make this shit up" category. The lede:

If you want to see the true face of war, go to the amateur porn Web site For almost a year, American soldiers stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan have been taking photographs of dead bodies, many of them horribly mutilated or blown to pieces, and sending them to Web site administrator Chris Wilson. In return for permission to post these images, Wilson gives the soldiers free access to his site. American soldiers have been using the pictures of disfigured Iraqi corpses as currency to buy pornography.

At Wilson's Web site, you can see an Arab man's face sliced off and placed in a bowl filled with blood. Another man's head, his face crusted with dried blood and powder burns, lies on a bed of gravel. A man in a leather coat who apparently tried to run a military checkpoint lies slumped in the driver's seat of a car, his head obliterated by gunfire, the flaps of skin from his neck blooming open like rose petals. Six men in beige fatigues, identified as US Marines, laugh and smile for the camera while pointing at a burned, charcoal-black corpse lying at their feet.

The captions that accompany these images, which were apparently written by soldiers who posted them, laugh and gloat over the bodies. The person who posted a picture of a corpse lying in a pool of his own brains and entrails wrote, "What every Iraqi should look like." The photograph of a corpse whose jaw has apparently rotted away, leaving a gaping set of upper teeth, bears the caption "bad day for this dude.

I'm so flabbergasted, words escape me. Is this even illegal? More bad apples? I sure hope Iraqis love their "freedom."

Hat tip: BP.

Monday, September 26, 2005

They walk among us

I wonder how many Bush voters feel this way? My guess is not many: that no matter how bad things get under Bush's tenure, the ones who voted for him will continue to mutter to themselves that "Gore would have been worse! Kerry would have been worse!"

Hat tip: BR.

Releasing Abu Ghraib prisoners

The U.S. plans to release 1000 prisoners from Abu Ghraib, as "a goodwill gesture to mark Ramadan." If anything proves the moral and political bankruptcy of the Bushist project in Iraq, this is it. "Symbolic" prisoner releases is not something that one does with dyed in the wool criminals and terrorists; it's something one does for political prisoners.

Don't get me wrong: it may well make sense to grant political concessions to various opposition and resistance groups in Iraq. It's a truism that the solution to insurgencies always takes place via a political process. And in political processes, granting concessions and finding political middle ground, including via symbolic gestures, can be an important element of reaching a compromise. So perhaps I should look at this announcement and just be thankful that (maybe, finally) some reality-based grownups rather than crypto-Trotskyite illusionists are finally making policy decisions in Iraq.

But if that's true, then isn't the Bush regime admitting the bogusness of the political premises for the war? Haven't the Bushists and the wingnutosphere dittoheads unceasingly insisted that the War in Iraq can only be understood as an element in the wider GWOT? And hasn't the GWOT in turn been continually defined under the Doctrine of Moral Clarity, e.g. that "either you're with us or against us"? Isn't it clear, then, that under the Bushist strategic doctrine these inmates are criminals and/or terrorists -- in which they deserve to be in jail and on trial (though perhaps not tortured) -- end of story?

What this prisoner release shows is that the powers that be in fact recognize that the people in this jail are political prisoners in a complex war in which there isn't a simple right side and wrong side. As I say, it shows some policy seriousness, but it also shows that even the last premise under which the war is being fought -- to destroy "evil" terrorism -- has essentially been abandoned.

Sunday, September 25, 2005


Frank Rich, who has become my favorite New York Times columnist, nails another one:

THERE are no coincidences. On Monday, as L. Dennis Kozlowski was slapped with 8 to 25 years in jail for looting Tyco International of some $150 million, the feds were making their first arrest of a high-ranking member of the Bush administration. The official was David Safavian, the chief of White House federal procurement policy who once worked for Jack Abramoff, the sleazy Republican lobbyist whose disreputable client list, in another noncoincidence, included Tyco. While it's an accident of timing that Mr. Safavian was collared at his suburban Virginia home just as Mr. Kozlowski was sent to the slammer in New York, the two events could not better bracket a corrupt era worthy of the Gilded Age.

Ours will be remembered as the Enron era. Enron itself is a distant memory - much like all that circa 2000 talk of a smoothly efficient C.E.O. presidency led by a Harvard M.B.A. and a former chief executive of Halliburton. But even as American business has since been purged by prosecutions and reforms, the mutant Enron version of the C.E.O. culture still rules in Washington: uninhibited cronyism, cooked books, special-favors networks, the banishment of whistle-blowers and accountability. More than ideology, this ethos has sabotaged even the best of American intentions, whether in Iraq or New Orleans. Unchecked, it promises greater disasters to come.

As recently as 10 days ago, when he resigned before his arrest, Mr. Safavian was the man who set purchasing policy for the entire federal government, including that related to Hurricane Katrina relief. The White House might as well have appointed a contestant from "The Apprentice." Before entering public service, Mr. Safavian's main claim to fame was as a lobbyist whose clients included Indian gaming interests and thuggish African regimes. Mr. Safavian now faces charges of lying and obstructing the investigation of Mr. Abramoff, the Tom DeLay-Ralph Reed-Grover Norquist pal who is being investigated by more agencies than looked into 9/11. Mr. Abramoff's greasy K Street influence-peddling network makes the Warren Harding gang, which operated out of its own infamous "little green house on K Street," look like selfless stewards of the public good.

You know that the arrest of Mr. Safavian, one of three known Abramoff alumni to migrate into the administration, is the start of something big. Alberto Gonzales's Justice Department announced it only after Mr. Safavian had appeared in court and had been released without bail. The gambit was clearly intended to keep the story off television, and it worked.

It won't for long. The Enron odor emanating from Mr. Safavian is of a piece with the rest of the cronyism in the Katrina preparedness package. The handing off of FEMA from President Bush's 2000 campaign manager, Joe Allbaugh, to Mr. Allbaugh's even less qualified buddy, Michael Brown, in 2003 is now notorious. (The two men have been friends for 25 years but were not college roommates, as I wrote here last week.) But that's only the beginning: the placement of hacks like "Brownie" and Mr. Safavian in crucial jobs hasn't been slowed one whit by what went down on their watch in New Orleans.

Witness the nomination of Julie Myers as the new head of immigration and customs enforcement at the Homeland Security Department. Though the White House attacked the diplomat Joseph Wilson for nepotism because he undertook a single pro bono intelligence mission while his wife was at the C.I.A., it thought nothing of handing this huge job to a nepotistic twofer: Ms. Myers is the niece of Gen. Richard Myers and has just married the chief of staff for the homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff. Her qualifications for running an agency with more than 20,000 employees and a $4 billion budget include serving as an associate counsel under Kenneth Starr; in that job, she helped mastermind the costly and doomed prosecution of Susan McDougal, and was outwitted at every turn by the defense lawyer Mark Geragos.

Ms. Myers is only the latest example of Mr. Chertoff's rolling the dice with Americans' safety during his brief tenure in Homeland Security. After the bombings in London in July, he vowed to maximize his department's "finite human and financial capital to attain the optimal state of preparedness." Yet the very same day, the president nominated Tracy Henke as Homeland Security's new executive director of the Office of State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness. Ms. Henke, a John Ashcroft political appointee at the Justice Department, has since been unmasked as an Enron-style spinner of numbers. As Eric Lichtblau of The Times reported in August, it was she who ordered the highly regarded nonpartisan head of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Lawrence Greenfeld, to delete a reference to politically embarrassing data in a government press release for a report on racial profiling. When Mr. Greenfeld complained, he was demoted.

Imagine Ms. Henke, in her Homeland Security job, having sway over press releases about our disaster readiness. There is likely to be nothing but good news until it's too late. But if the hiring of the likes of Ms. Henke, Ms. Myers and Mr. Safavian is half of the equation in Enron governance, the other half is the punishing of veteran civil servants like Mr. Greenfeld for doing their jobs honestly. Even as it fills its ranks with Abramoff golf-junket partners, political flunkies and underemployed relatives, the administration silences those who, like Sherron Watkins at Enron, might blow the whistle on any Kozlowski or Ebbers or Rigas fleecing or betraying the taxpayers. Three weeks before Mr. Safavian's arrest, the Army Corps of Engineers demoted another procurement official, Bunnatine Greenhouse, who was a 20-year veteran in her field. Her crime was not obstructing justice but pursuing it by vehemently questioning irregularities in the awarding of some $7 billion worth of no-bid contracts in Iraq to the Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root.

Ms. Greenhouse and Mr. Greenfeld are only two of the many whistle-blowers done in by this administration so far. (Congressman Rahm Emanuel, Democrat of Illinois, lists nine on his Web site.) Even top government officials who are not whistle-blowers, merely truth-tellers, are axed. Lawrence Lindsey, the president's chief economic adviser, was pushed out after he accurately projected the cost of the Iraq war at $100 billion to $200 billion. Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, was shunted aside after he accurately estimated the number of required troops ("several hundred thousand") for securing Iraq. Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld, who presented rosy scenarios of getting the job done with Iraqi oil income and low troop deployments, stayed on to bungle the war.

Their errors were compounded when the administration staffed the post-Saddam American occupation with exactly the same kind of appointees it would later bring to homeland security: the two heads of "private sector development" in Iraq were a former Bush fund-raiser in Connecticut and a venture capitalist who just happened to be Ari Fleischer's brother. As The Washington Post reported last year, major roles in the L. Paul Bremer regime were given to 20-somethings with no foreign service experience or knowledge of Arabic simply because they had posted their résumés at the Heritage Foundation, the same conservative think tank where Mr. Bremer had chaired a task force.

The damage done to the mission in Iraq and homeland security alike by Enron governance is immeasurable. Administration apologists who now claim that hurricane relief will bring still more examples of innovative, C.E.O.-style governmental enterprise (Mr. Bush's "Gulf Opportunity Zone," for instance) conveniently sidestep the harsh truth that such schemes are destined to be as empty and corrupt as Andrew Fastow's Raptor partnerships at Enron once they're staffed from the apparently infinite crony talent pool.

YET it's not only the administration that is to blame, any more than it is only the executives who are at fault when a corporation rots. Culpability also belongs to the board that rubber-stamps the shenanigans - to wit, Congress. Republicans in the Senate are led by Bill Frist, who, in the grandest Enron manner, claimed last week that it was to avoid a conflict of interest that his supposed "blind trust" unloaded all of his holdings in a Frist family-founded company just before its stock tanked. (Federal prosecutors and the S.E.C. are investigating.) As for the Democrats, they are nonpareil at posturing about the unstoppable nomination of John Roberts - a conservative, to be sure, but the rare Bush nominee who seems both qualified for his job and unsullied by ethical blemishes. Yet when David Safavian was up for a job involving hundreds of billions of dollars, and much of his dubious résumé was fully known, he was approved by the ranking Democrat, Joe Lieberman, and all his colleagues of both parties on the Governmental Affairs Committee.

Which is to say that the rest of us, the individual shareholders in government who have voted in our Enron-era politicians, are responsible, too.

Hat tip: WAB.

The country's moral fiber

An indispensible post on Balkinization on the ever-burgeoning torture story simmering around the edges of the GWOT: it's systematic, and it's being both covered up and hand-waved away. I don't think Juan Cole is one bit hyperbolic when he says that, "The brutalization of the US military and of its prisoners is a brutalization of the entire American public. It is an undermining of the foundational values of the Republic. We cannot remain Americans and continue to behave this way routinely."

The fundamental reason why Cole is right in this judgment is that the whole situation -- the ongoing torture, the "defining down of 'humane,'" the scapegoating of enlisted troops, the systematic coverups -- has been vastly documented in the media. The situation is well understood by any member of the public that has bothered to want to know. It's therefore very difficult to conclude anything other than that the American public, as a whole, has essentially decided that such behavior is, if not desirable, then at least acceptable. Andrew Sullivan sneered a year ago when Susan Sontag declared that the Abu Ghraib pictures were a direct reflection of the United States today. But the longer the torturing goes on, and the more that it becomes politically tolerated, the more Sontag's argument becomes inescapable.

Maybe my moral compass is wound up the wrong way, but if we have to choose between an America where more chief executives get blowjobs from slatternly interns, or an America where more chief executives sanction torture, it's pretty clear to me which kind of moral decay represents a greater threat to the America I cherish.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Condie feels the Lord coming

Reuters reports from Condoleeza Rice's recent "feel your pain" tour of Katrina victims:

On Sunday, she attended a church service in Whistler, Alabama, and prayed alongside the congregation for victims of the hurricane.

Asked to say a few words from the pulpit, Rice, a preacher's daughter, said: "The Lord Jesus Christ is going to come on time." She added: "If we just wait."

One suspects that some efficient government relief might temper the people's impatience.

Hat tip: JG.

What to do In Iraq?

Greg Djeregian over at Belgravia Dispatch last week posted a long rumination on what is to be done in Iraq. I recommend it as the most thoughtful (if long-winded) possible defense of what the U.S. must do going forward if it is to achieve neocon strategic goals. Clear-eyed about the need to establish security as the starting point for anything else worthwhile in Iraq, Greg has long argued that the U.S. should radically increase its ground presence in Iraq, if needs be to lock the place down by putting a soldier on every street corner.

Greg calls for us "to put the past behind us and try to dwell in the realm of the practical." Amen to that. So let's get practical. What "practically" it would mean for the United States to radically increase our commitments in Iraq? To begin with, we must acknowledge that what we face in Iraq, under best case circumstances, is a five year (and perhaps far longer) counterinsurgency campaign. Since per Greg's dictum we're remaining in the realm of the practical, we must also acknowledge that a 5+ year counterinsurgency campaign is likely to completely undo the American Army as it is currently constituted. Indeed, Greg even quotes Anthony Cordesman referencing the problem ("If the President has the magic wand necessary to create new forces, and is willing to ignore the impact on our all volunteer force structure of increasing deployments....") but then passes it right by and keeps calling for more troops. In short, if we are to remain in the realm of the practical, as Greg exhorts, then we must begin with the fact that American ground forces are facing a manpower and morale crisis of unprecedented proportions.

To get a sense of just how dire the situation really is, let me quote at length from an article by Jim Hoagland in last month's Washington Post:

Iraq has also brought into sharp focus the costs of the decision by Vietnam-era generals to embed critical skills in reserve and National Guard units to force the call-up of citizen soldiers in an extended conflict. The commanders reasoned that this would bar political leaders from pursuing wars that did not have substantial public support.

But the effect of this decision was to load into the reserves the civil affairs, psychological warfare and other specialized units important to fighting low-intensity conflicts or nation-building. The debate over how many U.S. troops should be in Iraq is a legitimate and important one. But it obscures the equally vital point that the United States does not have available enough of the kind of troops it needs to deploy in Iraq in any event.

Some retired and active-duty senior officers fear that another year of combat duty in urban areas of the Sunni Triangle will break the military cohesiveness and morale of the regular Army, Reserve and National Guard units being rotated into Iraq on multiple tours. Retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey says the National Guard already is "in the stage of meltdown and within 24 months will be coming apart."

McCaffrey sounded that alarm in testimony and a compelling memorandum he submitted to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on July 18 after a wide-ranging trip to Iraq in June. He predicted the United States would succeed in Iraq -- but added that it would take five years and dramatic changes in the way the American military and diplomatic establishments conduct business there.

His memorandum reinforces the impression that the U.S. transitional authority essentially wasted its 18 months in effective power and helped create "a weak state of warring factions" that still has to get on its feet. Understaffing and too rapid turnover by the State Department as well as the Pentagon have created a crippling lack of continuity for the decisive months ahead, McCaffrey wrote.

Such concern is driving a dramatic shift in U.S. military planning in Iraq. An emerging aim is to reduce the damage being inflicted on America's armed forces as an institution. It is the structural damage -- the hollowing out of America's military -- that most concerns McCaffrey and other military leaders. Reducing the number of U.S. troops in Iraq's contested urban areas by the summer of 2006 is now a key component of that planning.

The origins of this crisis of the American armed forces is intimately related to the domestic and international political circumstances of the war itself. Internationally, the diplomatic failure to secure widespread support for the war from most of the other Great Powers (and it was a failure, no matter who deserves the blame) is a major reason why the U.S. didn't get more troop support in theater.

Domestically, moreover, Bush has signally failed to demand of the American people an iota of personal sacrifice on behalf of the war. How much time has Bush spent exhorting people to enlist? I can't recall him do it even once. Why is that? There's actually a very good answer to that question: it's because the GWOT has been relentlessly marketed as being about preserving "the American way of life" (as idealized by Republicans) down to the smallest detail, up to and specifically including shopping sprees in SUVs. Despite all the windy bullshit about America's mission to liberate the world, the practical message of the Bush regime has been: this is a war to prove to the terr'rists that we can kill 'em without changing one iota of our behavior. And while that might seem like a position of moral clarity, and is certainly one that sells well during campaigns, it's also not a message that sends the kids running down to the local Army recruiter's office. (Put it in personal terms: Pat Tillman made headlines precisely because his choice to give up his comfortable life at home was so unusual; the contrast could not be sharper between Tillman and the vast majority of pro-warriors, who experience no cognitive dissonance or sense of hypocrisy as they cheerlead for war despite disinclining to sign themselves up for duty.)

It also must be pointed out that this crisis of the American armed forces is leading directly to strategic compromises in other theatres. As I commented earlier today, the wingnutosphere has been thunderingly silent on the radical policy reversal the Bush regime has adopted in North Korea. But let's pause for a second and ask ourselves, why are the Bushies doing this deal with NoKo now? Is it because they suddenly had a change of heart and believe that "we can do business" with a madman like Kim? Is it because they've suddenly starting loving international agreements? Seems pretty unlikely, I think most would agree.

Instead, the explanation for why the Bushies agreed to almost everything Kim has been demanding for the last five years is that they have no choice. Debunked is Rumsfeld's prewar bravado about the American capacity for fighting multiple simultaneous full-scale campaigns. If the Iraq war was designed to show that the U.S. meant business, it has instead neutered our ability to deliver the business: the idea that the U.S. could credibly threaten another war of choice is at this point risible. In short, we've spent our military wad in Iraq for a mess of geopolitical pottage.

What Greg and all other pro-warriors generally fail to do is to roll up all their exhortations to stay the course into a wider strategic discussion of feasibility and means and tradeoffs. If Greg and the other neocons are going to insist that we dwell in the realm of the practical, then it's time for them to start being a lot more forthright about the true costs and benefits of continuing the GWOT, as currently incarnated -- in terms of both large-scale domestic sacrifice, and diversion of resources from other significant long-range threats. In sum, what's missing from Greg's otherwise exhausting post is an engagement with the question of who should pay, and how, the enormous costs of staying the course.

Krauthammer on NK agreement

The conservosphere has been conspicuously silent on the diplomatic deal with North Korea to give up nuclear weapons. That's because there's no way to make partisan hay on this one: the deal can't possibly be spun as anything other than a conspicuous backing away from the musclebound cowboy platitudes that passed for grand strategy during Bush's first term (read: GWOT vs. "Axis of Evil").

But finally one conservative has spoken up with something intelligent to say about the deal, and that's Charles Krauthammer (!!), who points out that if the deal holds what it really heralds is the official emergence of China as a mature strategic rival to the United States. Worthwhile reading.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Katrina and the Republican succession

Reader PS asks a rhetorical question, "Why hasn't Cheney been named the reconstruction czar already?" He's got a hypothesis: that Bush/Rove plan to handpick their preferred successor to the throne by designating him (presumably him) the proconsul for Katrina recovery. Doing so will give the nominee $200B with which to build an immediate grateful constituency -- lots of doing good, sympathizing, photo ops, all at no political cost to the czar. But PS goes one step further: he believes the plan then is for Cheney to resign after the midterms and to appoint the Katrina Czar to the Vice Presidency -- thus allowing him to run with the advantages of quasi-incumbency in 2008!

I like this theory mainly for its appreciation of the Machiavellian (Mayberry or otherwise) nature of Bush-Rove political team. The idea that the political team that runs this country might try to change in some fundamental way how Presidential succession takes place in this country is certainly within the bounds of reason: they have repeatedly shown a ruthless willingness to disregard and even trample of the customs of our democracy. It's easy to imagine how the reasoning might go for Rove: "Who says long-sitting incumbent Vice Presidents shouldn't resign so that we can groom a successor? OK, OK, it's true that it might seem at first glance like the procedure undermines democracy since, just in case the President dies before the next election, we'll now suddenly have a President who the people never voted for -- but hey, how often to Presidents just up and die anyway? Furthermore, it's a myth that the Vice President is really elected anyway. Does anybody think that Cheney v. Lieberman swung a single significant vote in 2000? Given that, why not use the Vice Presidency as a grooming procedure for the next President? In fact, wouldn't it actually be better for the country if Presidents had a period of apprenticeship, as it were, getting to see how Washington operates, so that there won't be any administrative bumps during the handover? After all, don't well-run corporations -- those repositories of administrative best practices, disciplined as they are by the marketplace -- make a very big deal about providing a long-running plan for ensuring orderly successions of chief executives? Why should we accept that our country be run worse than most companies?" Etc etc.

(As an aside, I note that this willingness to trample on customary notions of political fair play is the most disturbing thing about this political team, and the thing that really makes one feel as if some kind of Caesarian moment could be approaching the Republic. As Mark Schmitt rightly points out, political customs and norms are at least as important as the actual rules to keeping a democracy in working order:

Politics, like much of civilization, depends on the existence of some unquestioned, "it just isn't done" customs. An example that I've mentioned a couple times is the explicit theory, on display once again in the CAFTA vote, that you want to pass a bill with as narrow a margin as possible, because every vote over 218 in the House is wasted and might represent a compromise. That's not something that legislative strategists ever thought of before -- they wanted to go into votes with the most comfortable margin, and to win with enough to have a clear endorsement against future challenges. And I'm convinced that Bush/Rove brought that same mindset to the presidential campaign. Most incumbents would want to have a nice Reagan-in-1984-type landslide in order to feel a clear mandate. But Rove/Bush thought that of every vote above 51% as a wasted concession; they knew that all Bush had to do was win, and he could declare the mandate.
I suppose Rove would dismiss Mark as a sentimentalist, and Rove would also probably point out that most pivotal presidencies -- notably Jackson, Lincoln, and FDR -- have radically revised previously held conceptions of acceptable political practices.)

Despite the fact that I consider it plausible that Rove/Bush might try something like this Katrina czar and/or VP stunt, I remain skeptical. My reason for skepticism has nothing to do with any illusion that these people consider elections a preferable way to determine political succession. Nor is it because I think the Democrats would sniff out the ruse and effectively put a stop to it. Rather, I think it's likely to fail because of internal opposition within the GOP itself. There are a lot of Republican Senators and governors who are currently fantasizing about the White House in 2008, and a plan like this would be opposed by every single one of them. In sum, Rove would have to push his own party's strings to get this thing done. It's one thing to bamboozle Democrats and liberals -- it's another to hornswoggle your own team.

Moreover, it's not clear to me that being the VP/incumbent is much of an advantage, as the record shows. It's a well-known fact that Bush I is the only sitting Vice President in the last 200 years to win the Presidency. The other recent efforts, Gore in 2000 and Nixon in 1960, resulted in losses.

Then again, a Vice President who had successfully overseen the Katrina (and Rita?! gulp!) disaster recovery efforts might well be a formidable candidate. And these people, as I say, will stop at nothing short of the outright criminal, and maybe not even there.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Homemakers or gold-diggers?

In response to the comments on the piece below, let me say that I don't think Professor Russett assumes that not maving a job makes a person "inferior" in some ontological sense. What's more likely is that she's assuming (and it's pretty hard to gainsay this view) that not bringing in an independent income puts women (or men, for that matter) in a potentially inferior power position. I say potentially, because I'm sure Russett would acknowledge that it depends on who you marry. If your spouse is a mensch, then he won't exploit that power advantage. But rare indeed is the power disparity that does not lead, at least at times, to exploitation.

Moreover, for the old second-wave feminists like Russett, the home front is only one dimension of the power question, and perhaps not the most important. Even under the best of domestic circumstances, choosing to become a homemaker diverts a woman (or man) from the path to political power. This is empirical: what percentage of the women, say, elected to Congress, were primarily homemakers before going into politics? Vanishingly few.

One might argue that it's silly to care so much about power, and that homemaking is appropriate for people who don't care that much about power. The significance that one attaches to attaining power is indeed the crux of the matter. The reason Russett is disappointed is that she appears to think, more or less, "We fought a revolution for this?!" It's a truism, of course, that the long-term results of revolutions always disappoint the original revolutionaries.

BTW, I have no problem with people trying to achieve "work-life balance." But just as most people recognize that there's something wrong with someone who works all the time and doesn't leave time for family and home, I hold to the view that there's something wrong with someone who spends all her time with family and home, and doesn't have any gainful employ. (The fact is that spending all your time alone with kids will [should!] drive any adult crazy. In fact, I suspect that the communal child-rearing practices of much pre-modern village life is probably the best thing for the sanity of the parents vis a vis child-rearing; on the other hand, such small communities instantiate all sorts of other oppressions, which is why people have been fleeing them for centuries.)

It's also worth emphasizing that working part time or not at all, esp. when the kids are small, is often the only economically rational choice for many families, given the cost of day care in the United States. Part of the reason why conservatives voice such strenuous opposition to subsidized daycare, of course, is that cheaper daycare would remove the economic pressure for women to quit or scale back their work when they have kids. In other words, it undermines "the traditional family," with proton mommy at home with the little electrons.

Ultimately, what grates about the co-eds in the original NYT article is their smug self-assurance that the decision to stay home with the kids will be a lifestyle choice rather than an economic necessity. It's the classist complacency that's irritating: these young women seem to assume they'll find some guy who will work his ass off so that they can "choose" to stay home with the kids. One strongly suspects that at least some of these chicks are basically gold-diggers, who dress up their venal ambitions in the immaculate drapes of alleged devotion to motherhood.

One sees these ladies all the time in San Francisco, by the way: self-described Ivy League SAHMs who, after a while toting the babies around Pacific Heights all day by themselves, decide that, well, they actually need a part-time nanny, too. At some point, when you see women like this, it's hard not to conclude that their choice to exit the labor force boils down to something other than a commitment to "providing the best for the kids."

Finishing School Redux

Here's an annoying piece about young women at Ivy League schools (I think calling them "co-eds" might not be inappropriate given the tenor of the article) who are cheerfully planning on eschewing a career in favor of becoming SAHMs (stay at home moms, for those of you not reading the appropriate parts of Craigslist).

Though none of the subjects of the article come right out and say it, it's apparent that they view Harvard and Yale educations as, mainly, useful resume builders in their hunt for a rich man. The idea that they might end up in a financial situation where they actually had to bring in an income -- e.g. the situation for the large majority of mothers -- is hors question. As for the old-school feminist notion (or just plain socially responsible notion) that consuming all those scarce educational resources imposes a social obligation to do something that only such an education enables, well, apparently that quaint notion can be shrugged off with a giggle.

Look, I don't begrudge these women their lucky opportunity to make these choices. One of the main myths of feminism was that having a job was a privilege and a fulfilling delight. Utter poppycock. Instead, I have not a feminist but a Calvinist view of work: if you don't have a job, then you don't have a proper social identity, and you don't have the right relationship with God. That's why all women (all people) should have jobs. In short, these women are lucky to be able to make this choice; but they are irresponsible for taking it.

A more detailed perspective here, with an emphasis on the childcare policy background to all this.

Monday, September 19, 2005

More signs of the death of neoconnery

Today's deal with North Korea is overall good news. Not so much because it in itself improves the situation much in North Korea (as numerous articles point out, the hard work remains to be done), but rather because it shows that the Bush regime has abandoned the dangerous idiocy that regime-change is the only way to deal with so-called rogue states. The deal with Kim is a de facto admission that the imperative for regime change -- e.g. the geopolitical strategy that got us into the Iraq catastrophe -- is a strategic failure. Sayonara to the long-cherished Boltonian notion that it's pointless to do deals with nutjobs.

The fiscal conservatives revolt

The Wall Street Journal is pissed about the $200B federal "hand out" for Katrina clean-up. If Washington is "Hollywood for ugly people," then Bushism is a New Deal for wingnuts -- and the WSJ doesn't like it.

P.S. My favorite line in this piece was when they described Grover Cleveland as "one of our greatest presidents." That's a good one.

$1,000,000,000 stolen from Iraqi Defense ministry

If this is true, this story is beyond comprehension. Unfortunately, the article is unclear on what exactly happened, and mixes in the news report with unsupported allegations about how the loss is compromising the Iraqi army's ability to resist the insurgency.

What gives this story credibility, however, are the quotes from Ali Allawi, Iraq's Finance Minister. Clearly something happened. But what? The money clearly wasn't physically stolen -- you can't cart off that kind of cash. But then what exactly happened? Was it embezzled? Or did it simply disappear via corrupt procurement contracts -- in which case "theft" is being used rather metaphorically, in the sense of "a rip off." But the article also hints that some money may have disappeared without even the figleaf of procurement. This much is certain: Allawi is definitely grinding an axe with the Ministry of Defense.

Forbes is also reporting on the story.

Hat tip: JG

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Flooded New Orleans

Takes a while to load, but check out the highest-res satellite picture of New Orleans on August 31 I've seen so far.

Teen habits

The Onion, apparently, didn't survey the kids.

Arab democracy

George Bush claims (with dubious credibility, it is true) that the goal of our invasion of Iraq is to create a democracy "in the heart" of the Arab world, which his house intellectuals hypothesize will provide a positive demonstration effect for the rest of the region.

But what would the policy outlook of an Arab democracy look like? This is a question that American neocons typically avoid asking for themselves; they presume that any democracy would be pro-American (and pro-Israeli).

The Israelis, of course, don't have the luxury of making such presumptions. And Ariel Sharon, who is nothing if not politically astute, appears to have a good idea what Arab democracy would look like, in Palestine anyway. Which is why he's vowing to stop democracy in Palestine. Of course, stopping a free and fair Arab election has multiple virtues: for one thing, it ensures that AIPAC will be able to go on claiming that Israel is "the only democracy in the Middle East."

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Civil war in Iraq

Quotes from Iraqis, on their country's plight. This one is especially grim:
Who said there is no civil war in Iraq? It has already started, but the Iraqis are trying to hide this fact because they know how awful this term is. We daily hear about another incident in which Sunnis are getting killed by Shias and Shias who are getting killed by Sunnis.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Roberts and abortion

Either Roberts is lying to the Senate, or he won't overturn Roe v. Wade. And if does overturn Roe v. Wade, he should be charged with perjury.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Beyond Parody Dept.

Tom DeLay:

This morning, U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's visit to the Reliant Park this offered him a glimpse of what it's like to be living in shelter.

While on the tour of a shelter with top administration officials from Washington, including U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao and U.S. Treasury Secretary John W. Snow, DeLay stopped to chat with three young boys resting on cots.

The congressman likened their stay to being at camp and asked, "Now tell me the truth boys, is this kind of fun?"

They nodded yes, but looked perplexed.

Beggars the imagination.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Taking Responsibility: A Christian Virtue

Cornell West, right as rain:

In the end George Bush has to take responsibility. When [the rapper] Kanye West said the President does not care about black people, he was right, although the effects of his policies are different from what goes on in his soul. You have to distinguish between a racist intent and the racist consequences of his policies. Bush is still a 'frat boy', making jokes and trying to please everyone while the Neanderthals behind him push him more to the right.

Poverty has increased for the last four or five years. A million more Americans became poor last year, even as the super-wealthy became much richer. So where is the trickle-down, the equality of opportunity? Healthcare and education and the social safety net being ripped away - and that flawed structure was nowhere more evident than in a place such as New Orleans, 68 per cent black. The average adult income in some parishes of the city is under $8,000 (£4,350) a year. The average national income is $33,000, though for African-Americans it is about $24,000. It has one of the highest city murder rates in the US. From slave ships to the Superdome was not that big a journey.

New Orleans has always been a city that lived on the edge. The white blues man himself, Tennessee Williams, had it down in A Streetcar Named Desire - with Elysian Fields and cemeteries and the quest for paradise. When you live so close to death, behind the levees, you live more intensely, sexually, gastronomically, psychologically. Louis Armstrong came out of that unbelievable cultural breakthrough unprecedented in the history of American civilisation. The rural blues, the urban jazz. It is the tragi-comic lyricism that gives you the courage to get through the darkest storm.

Charlie Parker would have killed somebody if he had not blown his horn. The history of black people in America is one of unbelievable resilience in the face of crushing white supremacist powers.

This kind of dignity in your struggle cuts both ways, though, because it does not mobilise a collective uprising against the elites. That was the Black Panther movement. You probably need both. There would have been no Panthers without jazz. If I had been of Martin Luther King's generation I would never have gone to Harvard or Princeton.

They shot brother Martin dead like a dog in 1968 when the mobilisation of the black poor was just getting started. At least one of his surviving legacies was the quadrupling in the size of the black middle class. But Oprah [Winfrey] the billionaire and the black judges and chief executives and movie stars do not mean equality, or even equality of opportunity yet. Black faces in high places does not mean racism is over. Condoleezza Rice has sold her soul.

Now the black bourgeoisie have an even heavier obligation to fight for the 33 per cent of black children living in poverty - and to alleviate the spiritual crisis of hopelessness among young black men.

Bush talks about God, but he has forgotten the point of prophetic Christianity is compassion and justice for those who have least. Hip-hop has the anger that comes out of post-industrial, free-market America, but it lacks the progressiveness that produces organisations that will threaten the status quo. There has not been a giant since King, someone prepared to die and create an insurgency where many are prepared to die to upset the corporate elite.

"An existential desert of the present"

Four years on, how did we come to this pass?

Mark Danner quotes Rumsfeld asking the right question ("Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?"), and then answers, with devastating accuracy:

The answer is clearly no. "We have taken a ball of quicksilver," says the counterinsurgency specialist John Arquilla, "and hit it with a hammer."

What has helped those little bits of quicksilver grow and flourish is, above all, the decision to invade and occupy Iraq, which has left the United States bogged down in a brutal, highly visible counterinsurgency war in the heart of the Arab world. Iraq has become a training ground that will temper and prepare the next generation of jihadist terrorists and a televised stage from which the struggle of radical Islam against the "crusader forces" can be broadcast throughout the Islamic world. "Islamic extremists are exploiting the Iraqi conflict to recruit new anti-U.S. jihadists," Porter J. Goss, director of the C.I.A., told the Senate in February. "These jihadists who survive will leave Iraq experienced in, and focused on, acts of urban terrorism. They represent a potential pool of contacts to build transnational terrorist cells, groups and networks in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other countries."

And why have we committed such a world-historical folly? I'm afraid Danner is altogether right, again:
Instead of fighting the real war that was thrust upon us on that incomprehensible morning four years ago, we stubbornly insisted on fighting a war of the imagination, an ideological struggle that we defined not by frankly appraising the real enemy before us but by focusing on the mirror of our own obsessions.
Danner's argument, in a nutshell, is that the people running American foreign policy today (in particular the architects of the 2002 National Security Strategy and its first test-case, the Iraq War) have attempted to run the so-called GWOT according the trusty Cold War anti-communist playbook. But with one crucial difference: instead of replicating the containment policy which was the de facto (and ultimately winning) strategy of all American administrations during the Cold War, they decided to go for what Norman Podhoeretz famously refered to as the "old conservative dream of going beyond the containment of Communism to the 'rollback' of Communist influence." In other words, the neocons not only wanted to replay the Cold War, an ambition which in any event misapprehended the nature of the new enemy, but what's worse insisted on pursuing a policy in this new Cold War which had been repeatedly rejected by Cold War American Presidents (including Reagan, whom they bitterly criticized for same) as overly and unnecessarily risky.

Which raises a thought that has been looming larger and larger in my mind for the last ten years: that Dwight D. Eisenhower, the man who really codified containment as the enduring American Cold War policy, is America's most underrated post-Civil War President. Be that as it may, this much is certain: George Bush will certainly be considered one of the worst.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Katrina and global warming

This seems likely to be the definitive technical blog discussion of the subject. Money:

There is no way to prove that Katrina either was, or was not, affected by global warming. For a single event, regardless of how extreme, such attribution is fundamentally impossible. We only have one Earth, and it will follow only one of an infinite number of possible weather sequences. It is impossible to know whether or not this event would have taken place if we had not increased the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere as much as we have. Weather events will always result from a combination of deterministic factors (including greenhouse gas forcing or slow natural climate cycles) and stochastic factors (pure chance).

Due to this semi-random nature of weather, it is wrong to blame any one event such as Katrina specifically on global warming - and of course it is just as indefensible to blame Katrina on a long-term natural cycle in the climate.

Yet this is not the right way to frame the question.... The situation is analogous to rolling loaded dice: one could, if one was so inclined, construct a set of dice where sixes occur twice as often as normal. But if you were to roll a six using these dice, you could not blame it specifically on the fact that the dice had been loaded....

Ultimately the answer to what caused Katrina is of little practical value. Katrina is in the past. Far more important is learning something for the future, as this could help reduce the risk of further tragedies. Better protection against hurricanes will be an obvious discussion point over the coming months, to which as climatologists we are not particularly qualified to contribute. But climate science can help us understand how human actions influence climate. The current evidence strongly suggests that:

  1. hurricanes tend to become more destructive as ocean temperatures rise, and
  2. an unchecked rise in greenhouse gas concentrations will very likely increase ocean temperatures further, ultimately overwhelming any natural oscillations.

Scenarios for future global warming show tropical SST rising by a few degrees, not just tenths of a degree. That is the important message from science. What we need to discuss is not what caused Katrina, but the likelyhood that global warming will make hurricanes even worse in future.

In other words, the scientific consensus appears to be that while global warming won't necessarily make hurricanes more frequent, it is likely to make them more powerful.

This is not good news for human beings. Having twice as many small hurricanes making landfall would likely be less destructive than having the same number of hurricanes, but with each on average releasing much greater energy. The case of New Orleans is paradigmatic in this respect. New Orleans could probably withstand a couple category two hurricanes every season; but one category four hurricane and it's curtains. If sea level rises just a foot or two, the same may well apply to cities like Miami -- not to mention the cities of the Gangetic delta.

The "CEO" Presidency

Kevin Drum has a post up today about how the main problm with our "CEO President" is that he is a very bad CEO. A reasonable point. But it's also worth unpacking the conceptual underpinnings of the idea of the President as the CEO of the nation.

The idea of Bush as a "CEO president" was used mainly in Rove's 2000 campaign messaging. It not only helped sell Bush to the Republican business establishment, but also depicted Bush (the governor of Texas, son of a President, and grandson of a Senator) as somehow an outsider to politics, a man who had earned his chops in the real world -- in contrast to the ill-disciplined Clinton White House, and to the "Washington insider" Al Gore, who had chosen to spend his twenties fighting in Vietnam and running for Congress, instead of drinking himself half to death in Texas honkytonks. The fact that Bush was a lousy businessman did not sully the idea among its proponents. As pure propaganda, in short, the idea of Bush as "CEO President" was a pretty brilliant idea.

But leave aside Bush's particular merits as a CEO, and instead give a moment's thought to the metaphor itself. Isn't there something sinister about the very idea of equating the Presidency with a CEO? As Peter Drucker has pointed out for decades, corporate management is by nature an authoritarian, anti-democratic, dubiously legitimate institution; neither the employees nor the customers actually get to vote for a CEO, nor even the shareholders, but only the board, which as we all know is (usually by design) a very imperfect proxy for the shareholders.

Now, the authoritarian nature of corporate management may be acceptable when running a business, but surely it should raise eyebrows as a model for democratic politics. Running a profitable company requires getting maximum effort from your employees, excluding the competition from your markets, and extracting maximum value from the customers. How exactly do these ideas map to democratic concepts of citizenship and participation? Are the "citizens" the equivalent of customers? Or are the citizens more like employees? How about the "competition"? Is that the other political party? Or is it a foreign enemy? A quick glance at the way Bush has governed suggests that these questions are more than a little pertinent, and are not without disturbing implications for us, the employee/consumers.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005


Is this funny?

By the way, this isn't a fringe wingnut site, but rather one whose products are modelled (see bottom of the home page) by Glenn Reynolds, Michelle Malkin, and others who somehow manage to be within the pale of the acceptability on the right. Makes you realize that these people cannot be negotiated with.

Katrina's lesson: racism is more than prejudice

One thing that Katrina's aftermath is doing is to heat up the true third rail of American politics, namely the discussion of racism. I have too much to do this week to go into this subject in anywhere near the depth that I'd like, so I'll restrict myself today to a simple matter of definition of terms. [Update: All of what follows is exceedingly elementary to anyone who's studied the sociology of race, but it bears repeating. If there's one thing that we all should learn from George Bush, it is the importance of repeating even elementary things.]

One of the most fundamental problems with the discussion of racism in the United States today is the tendency (most commonly found, it must be said, on the political right and among whites) to equate racism with prejudice. People of this persuasion define racism as being identical to (and, crucially, limited to) ethnophobia -- that is, dislike of or disdain for other people on the basis of their supposed racial characteristics. In this definition, racism is not a social condition but rather something that exists in the minds of "racists."

It is widely and correctly observed that this sort of racial prejudice, or bigotry, has waned a great deal in this country in the last half century. Though racial bigotry certainly still exists, many fewer people hate other people simply because of their skin color. This is true not only in terms of a reduction of the the number of bigots, but also in terms of a steady restriction of the social arenas in which bigotry manifests itself. For example, while many white people may still not want their daughters to date black men, the vast majority of whites no longer actively or even passively refuse to work alongside black people. And the idea that someone might be refused service at a bar or on public transportation on the basis of skin color is scarcely imaginable.

This abatement -- indeed, the taboo-ification -- of active racial hatred is what causes many people to say that racism today is no longer a major force in American society. What they mean by that is that active displays of bigotry are now widely regarded as completely illegitimate, not just politically, but also at work or even in social circles. This obviously represents huge progress for our country. However, while rolling back bigotry is a necessary condition for eliminating racism, it is not a sufficient condition. This is precisely the fulcrum of the political debate in this country today about racism.

When the Ward Connerlys of this world argue that the solution to racism is simply to strike any recognition of race from legal and administrative ledgers, it is because they believe that any recognition of difference is an invitation to discrimination. And while they're not entirely wrong that recognizing difference invites discrimination, they commit a basic logical fallacy when they stand this causal argument on its head and claim that simply striking race from the ledgers will in itself end racial exclusion. Connerly's argument is no so different from claiming that the way to get rid of the elephant in the room is for all of us to studiously avoid talking about the elephant. This is obviously silly. Racist language can create a racist reality, to be sure, but it's surely obvious that simply abolishing the discourse of race won't at a stroke do away with racialist sentiments, practices, and histories.

The problem with equating racism with prejudice or bigotry is that it fails to address the fact that racial discrimination is not just an interpersonal matter, but also a social and political and institutional matter. That is, historical patterns of race-based exclusion are not abolished by the disappearance or abatement of the cthonic prejudices that underpinned the original race-based exclusions. Long after white people cease to actively hate and consciously discriminate against racial minorities, there persist social patterns -- where people live, which social organization they belong to, what schools they attend, and so on -- that were built during those hundreds of years where active racial bigotry was the fact of ethnic life in America. These social and institutional structures, in other words, are constructed on prejudicial racialist foundations. As such, they are bearers of the racist past, even though they may today no longer be populated by active bigots. This social and economic exclusion on the basis of race is what "racism" is really all about.

The continued exclusion of blacks from social organizations (e.g., stereotypically, country clubs) is the archetype for this sort of racism. It's worth unpacking the archetype for its illustrative details. The barrier to entry for blacks into these sorts of institutions is rarely an active rule banning blacks from joining. Rather, what far more commonly excludes blacks from these clubs is the fact that no one in the club is actually friends with any black people. Now, it would be a mistake to conclude from this lack of black friends that the club members are actively bigoted against black people. Rather, the club is simply an institutional manifestation of a longstanding social network of (since longstanding, necessarily white) upper class people. For this social set, socializing with blacks is simply something that their social network has never really done. It's not that they're against the idea of socializing with blacks (though maybe their parents or grandparents were), it's just that as a matter of fact they don't socialize with blacks. In the meanwhile, the club facilitates the doing of business deals (within their narrow social circle), the pairing off pair of children (within the narrow social circle), and thus generally works to assure the social replication of the longstanding racialist pattern, all without a bigoted thought ever entering anyone's head.

It absolutely cannot be overstressed that racial exclusion, e.g. racism, today happens not so much through active bigotry as it does through the tacit exclusions created by these sorts of unstated, unconsidered social habits. And the follow-up point is almost as important: namely, that these sorts of social exclusions matter very much for one's total life opportunities, including crucially one's economic opportunities... and thus greatly affect one's opportunities to, say, escape from deadly hurricanes.

What is the connection between the tacit social exclusion and economic opportunity? As everyone will tell you, business opportunities are largely predicated on personal relationships. Who you hire is based on who you know and where you went to school, and who you do deals with depends on who you trust. That's natural and understandable (and it's also true that Americans are more open to trusting unknown people than are people in other countries). But think about what this means given the perpetuated pattern of social exclusion described in the preceding paragraph. It means that opportunities are based on who you know, and who you know depends on where you grew up, where you went to school, what you did during your summers as a kid, and so on. In short, overall life opportunities are hugely determined by the nature of your "deep social network." And if your social network is, for purely historical reasons, defined by color lines that were drawn long ago in a different and undeniably widely bigoted age, then you don't have to personally be a bigot yourself to be perpetuating the institutional structures of racial exclusion.

When two thirds of blacks believe that "racism continues to be a problem" in this country, while two thirds of whites believe that it is not, the divide in good measure can be explained by this differing interpretation of what constitutes racism. White people say to themselves "I don't dislike black people, and I don't know any white people who do" and conclude that racism is not a big deal; black people find themselves systematically outside the centers of power and privilege, and conclude that the lovely thoughts inside white people's heads really don't matter for much.

This social definition of "racism" also underpins the argument that while obviously anyone can be prejudiced or bigoted toward anyone else on account of their skin color (including black people who hate whites, of which there are more than a few), racism is something that only applies to blacks and other ethnic minorities. Since racism is a matter of racially-coded social exclusion from positions of power, and since white people are not systematically excluded in this country, white people therefore cannot be victims of racism. Yes, a white person can be a victim of bigotry, and a black person can be a bigot, but it is only society itself that is racist. Individuals can only meaningfully be described as "racists" insofar as their own prejudices actively perpetuate racism.

People on the right hate the argument that racism is not a matter of individual psychology but rather a social condition. They are not wrong to see that this definition flies in the face of the radical individualist premises that underpin the defining American mythology. Ward Connerly is not wrong when he realizes that to recognize the social rather than individualist character of racism and racial exclusion demands a non-individualist solution. (A larger point is that regaining the possibility of social progress requires dismantling the pernicious rightwing lie that, as Margaret Thatcher famously put it, "There's no such thing as society, only individuals and families." This literally anti-social and sociopathic perspective is not only the basis for much today's so-called "conservative" philosophy but also and not coincidentally the primary obstacle to dealing with most of our society's problems: if there's no such thing as society, the rightwing reasoning goes, then why devote any resources to solving society's problems?) Pace some rat-choicing economists, dissolving racism is not simply a matter of adjusting individual people's "preference sets" to non-bigoted settings. If ending racism is not about individual preferences, then the solution cannot happen in the marketplace, which means that... yes, it means that only the state can really develop a solution.

To sum up: "racism" is not a matter of the individual psychology of hatred; rather, it is a matter of the social structure of political and economic inclusion and exclusion. To deny this fundamental recognition of the social nature of racism makes you, I'm afraid, an active abettor of racism as it exists today. (In case it isn't obvious, however, being an active abettor of racism neithers makes you a bigot nor requires that you be one. In fact, that's the whole point.) Moreover, the recognition that racism is a social phenomenon, larger and longer-lived than the bigotry of individuals, leads nolens volens to the idea that some sort of continued social intervention is necessary to end this racism. Such a recognition is, one may hope, the one good thing that may come out of the Katrina catastrophe.

The one place where reasonable minds may disagree on all this is what form the "continued social intervention to end racism" should take. Specifically, what role the state should take in this social intervention is a very good and very hard question. But that's a topic for another day.

Hackology: Katrina edition

We know the plan for the Bushies to is to assign 100% of the blame for Katrina-related planning, evacuation and rescue failures to local officials.

It's kind of morbidly fun to watch the hacks fall into line. What I wonder about people like this is whether they realize they are basically integrity-free operatives, or if they really believe that.

It's also not going to work -- anyone with eyes can see that the failures were legion across the government board -- local, state, federal. Ultimately, Bush will probably find someone down the line to pin the blame for the federal failures. That "Brownie" is going down seems inevitable.

Katrina: the racist backlash

A disgusting if predictable attempt to explain the Katrina disaster in terms of the racial inferiority of New Orleans blacks.

Monday, September 05, 2005

American Mythology

Maria Farrell over at Crooked Timber offers an angry, pointed post about how this last week's images from New Orleans have exposed the idiocy of the U.S.'s self-image as an egalitarian, meritocratic society. She might have pointed out that it is precisely this unmasking of the myth which makes it such a political crisis for the arch-stokers of that mythology, i.e. the poobahs of the GOP. The only question now is whether the Rove spin-machine can once again work its magic, to turn off the burgeoning discourse about structural socio-political failure, and instead replace it with a discussion of which small-time Democrats are to blame for the Katrina debacle.

But let me ask you: if the American people have to choose between, on the one hand, affirming their cherished mythologies, as packaged by Rove, and, on the other hand, facing hard nasty truths about themselves and their country -- do you have any real doubt as to which way the majority of the country will choose? And this may indeed be the secret of the GOP's success: it's willingness to affirm and rearticulate the governing myths of our country at every turn, even in the face of massive debunking evidence. Cue "reality-based community" quote.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Note to DNC

If this is true, it's beyond disgusting:

There was a striking dicrepancy between the CNN International report on the Bush visit to the New Orleans disaster zone, yesterday, and reports of the same event by German TV.

ZDF News reported that the president's visit was a completely staged event. Their crew witnessed how the open air food distribution point Bush visited in front of the cameras was torn down immediately after the president and the herd of 'news people' had left and that others which were allegedly being set up were abandoned at the same time.

The people in the area were once again left to fend for themselves, said ZDF.

Why doesn't Dean have someone from the DNC continuously following the Bush stage managers around, filming this stuff for fodder for ad campaigns?

Revealing to the world the Bush regime's "communications" methods would not be exploitation; it would merely be forcing this regime to operate in the daylight. Give the people a chance to judge for themselves whether they appreciate this sort of "leadership."

A neocon recants

Via Andrew Sullivan, we have the pleasure of observing that rarest of intellectual phenomena: a neocon recanting publicly. Even Sullivan doesn't disagree with the substance of the mea culpa, just with the mood.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

A million men to Iraq?

James Quinlivan, a RAND researcher, believes that successful nation-building requires 20 troops per thousand population.

That would mean we need about 1.3 million troops in Iraq. We currently have about one tenth of that. Hmmm...


Obviously someone's figured out how to spam comments on blogs. In light of his marvelous application of engineering skill, I've decided to require users to register in order to comment.

Apologies to those of you who wish to maintain 100% anonymity -- but feel free to make up a fake user, of course.

NB: the only moderately interesting thing about the spam is that it's only being addressed to blog entries that use the word "Bush." Should I try refering to the CinC only as "Shrub" as a workaround?

Guns or Butter?

If the right-wingers are right, that there is no trade-off between fighting an endless insurgency in Iraq and having a fully staffed and functional national guard on hand ready to aid during times of domestic disaster, then how come guardsmen are being sent home from Iraq and Afghanistan to help out in the Katrina-ravaged Gulf?

Friday, September 02, 2005

Purging the Sodomites in New Orleans

The Agape Press, which is the house organ for the American Family Association, one of the largest and most powerful groups of the radical right, offers this assessment of what has taken place in New Orleans:

Rev. Bill Shanks, pastor of New Covenant Fellowship of New Orleans, also sees God's mercy in the aftermath of Katrina -- but in a different way. Shanks says the hurricane has wiped out much of the rampant sin common to the city.

The pastor explains that for years he has warned people that unless Christians in New Orleans took a strong stand against such things as local abortion clinics, the yearly Mardi Gras celebrations, and the annual event known as "Southern Decadence" -- an annual six-day "gay pride" event scheduled to be hosted by the city this week -- God's judgment would be felt.

“New Orleans now is abortion free. New Orleans now is Mardi Gras free. New Orleans now is free of Southern Decadence and the sodomites, the witchcraft workers, false religion -- it's free of all of those things now," Shanks says. "God simply, I believe, in His mercy purged all of that stuff out of there -- and now we're going to start over again."

The New Orleans pastor is adamant. Christians, he says, need to confront sin. "It's time for us to stand up against wickedness so that God won't have to deal with that wickedness," he says.

Believers, he says, are God's "authorized representatives on the face of the Earth" and should say they "don't want unrighteous men in office," for example. In addition, he says Christians should not hesitate to voice their opinions about such things as abortion, prayer, and homosexual marriage. "We don't want a Supreme Court that is going to say it's all right to kill little boys and girls, ... it's all right to take prayer out of schools, and it's all right to legalize sodomy, opening the door for same-sex marriage and all of that.”

These are the people who now own the Republican Party. Indeed, Bush's (lack of) reaction to the crisis suggests that he may well agree substantively with these wingnuts.

Never mind that it's not the "show-me-your-breasts" crowd that's getting drowned. Wouldn't want all those southern sorority chicks paying the price now, now would we? But maybe God's just punishing the actual physical location of the sin, rather than the actual tax-paying sinners themselves. That would make sense.

The sound of an ideology drowning

Want to read the ideological equivalent of a man desperately trying to unlock the padlock which is keeping the anchor chained to his neck, as the water in the room keeps rising?

Andrew Sullivan does an excellent impersonation.

Martial law?

A friend writes and asks, "How come Bush doesn't declare martial law" in New Orleans?

I must confess that I find it perplexing, too. It would be of a piece with the effort on the part of Bush's handlers to consistently project an image of toughness and willingness to "take the fight to the enemy."

It would also be a first step in turning the whole anti-Bush New-Orleans-is-like-Baghdad meme on its head, with Bush declaring, in both instances, "We will crush the evildoers like the vermin they are," etc. Fox News would love to jump on that bandwagon, I don't doubt. Plus, you've got to figure that Rove knows that shooting a few black people on live TV probably will play well with "the base."

The fact that Bush isn't making this move is the best evidence yet that his handlers are losing their touch. Maybe the imminent indictment is affecting Rove's concentration.

The Styrofoam Peanut Presidency

Small Precautions reader PS sends me this link from TPM cafe, asking me if I was responsible for it:

The thing that comes to my mind, watching this horrible clusterfuck play out, is that we have seen this all before. The lack of planning, the replacement of professionals with political cronies, and the subversion of all process so that profiteering replaces disaster preparation and emergency preparedness as the primary goal. We're getting a taste of Iraqi reconstruction, and the anger you see on live TV is hauntingly familiar, even if this time it is in English.

Crooked auto body shops will sometimes replace expensive airbags with styrofoam peanuts packed into the steering wheel. It seems that someone has been busy packing our whole government with styrofoam peanuts for the past couple years, and we are just finding out. FEMA has been sent through the privatization funhouse, its budget slashed, effective staff lost, its mission diverted toward terrorism. The agency's head is an estate planning lawyer who was the college buddy of the previous head of FEMA, who in turn got the job as a political favor for running Junior's 2000 campaign. And now surprise, surprise, our levees predictably crumble in the face of a predictable storm, people have no food, no water, dead bodies litter the streets, and the federal government is nowhere to be found. Our children will be in debt to Chinese bankers for a long time paying interest on the costs of a styrofoam peanut-filled government that failed us in our greatest time of need.

Alas, I was not the author of these honeyed words. But I definitely appreciate the sentiment.

Word is now coming in that troops are being sent into New Orleans with shoot-to-kill orders. Whether or not that's true, it's probably a good idea to get the word onto the street that this is the case.

On the homologies between Iraq and New Orleans: the Iraqification of American domestic policy should always have been an expected result of the war. (A major reason, not incidentally, to oppose the war.) As anyone who has spent time studying the effect of warfare on society knows, the home front is never insulated from brutalization on the front lines, and this impact runs far deeper and wider than simply the impact of PTSD'd veterans on their home communities. Warfare, particularly insurgency and counter-insurgency, normalizes and legitimizes violence as a means for resolving political differences.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Catapulting the propaganda

Regarding his Social Security plans, Bush explained to middle schoolers in May that, "In my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda." If he were a little younger, I'd think that might be a D&D reference, something to sound cool to the kids. But actually, I think he just means what he says.

By the way, the link is from the White House web site, in case you don't bother mousing over it.

Zoom shot of New Orleans

The satellite view of New Orleans right now. Like GoogleEarth in near real time.

More crazy pictures from New Orleans

Here and here.

"Me or your lying eyes" Dept.

As Congress gets ready next week to vote on expanding the tax cuts for the wealthy, we need to keep in mind what the price of these cuts will be. Even though Bush has been widely (and rightly) excoriated for not making his budget cuts equal to his tax cuts, it's not exactly true that the Bushes haven't cut anything along the way. One thing they were quite eager to cut, apparently, was funding to the Army Corps of Engineers to shore up the Lake Pontchartrain levees.

On this subject, the New Orleans City Business journal had some choice details back in June:

In fiscal year 2006, the New Orleans district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is bracing for a record $71.2 million reduction in federal funding.

It would be the largest single-year funding loss ever for the New Orleans district, Corps officials said....

The district has identified $35 million in projects to build and improve levees, floodwalls and pumping stations in St. Bernard, Orleans, Jefferson and St. Charles parishes. Those projects are included in a Corps line item called Lake Pontchartrain, where funding is scheduled to be cut from $5.7 million this year to $2.9 million in 2006....

It's now up to the Senate. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-New Orleans, is making no promises.

"It's going to be very tough, Landrieu said. "The House was not able to add back this money ... but hopefully we can rally in the Senate and get some of this money back."

Landrieu said the Bush administration is not making Corps of Engineers funding a priority.

"I think it's extremely shortsighted," Landrieu said. "When the Corps of Engineers' budget is cut, Louisiana bleeds. These projects are literally life-and-death projects to the people of south Louisiana and they are (of) vital economic interest to the entire nation."

Landrieu had it exactly right. Bush, on the other hand, this morning claimed that, "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees."

Hat tip: CM.

Hard slog, American edition

Come hell or high water, Bush is sticking to his talking points.